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Are Proofreading and Editing the Same Thing?

Updated: Jan 26

Cat sniffing flowers lying on the crease of a book that lays on a table.

As a writer, it can be overwhelming searching for the right editor.

You've written your draft, but now what?

You know you need help perfecting it, but with so many types of editors available, how do you know which one to choose?

As with any form of editing, some services overlap, and the exact definition may vary from editor to editor. Therefore, my first piece of GOLDEN ADVICE is: Always clarify with your chosen editor what they will provide.

However, this post aims to give you a rough guide as to who does what and when to call them in.

So, without further ado, let's begin.

Developmental editing

Developmental editing is a term typically used when an editor looks at the bigger picture or overall story outline.

A developmental editor will comb through your story looking for plot holes, issues with character development and sticking points. They'll assess the entire manuscript and provide a report outlining which parts are working and which parts need improving. Some may even offer coaching to help you explore new elements to enrich your story.

Substantive editing

Substantive editing is another form of bigger-picture editing and can include making structural changes, such as adding, removing or swapping information around to improve flow and readability.

It includes fact-checking to make sure the information is correct. As this is a time-consuming job, a substantive editor won't look at the nitty-gritty aspects of your writing.

Line editing

As the name suggests, this type of edit involves a thorough check on a line-by-line basis. The editor will make sure the text is conveying your message while removing ambiguity.

Similar to a substantive editor, a line editor may also make changes to the sentence structure and length. They may also swap some of the text around if it needs improving, introduce better word choices and tighten up the text to make it more concise.


The process of copyediting is a more mechanical edit. A copyeditor doesn't focus on the overall document. Instead, they will look for smaller errors in the text.

This will include keeping an eye out for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors. They may also check for overlooked poor word choice, syntax issues and inconsistencies in both the text and formatting.


Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process and is typically carried out once a document has been typeset (the act of preparing it for printing or publication).

This is the last time anyone will check for any errors or inconsistencies that have slipped through on previous edits.

A proofreader will check for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, inconsistencies in the text and formatting, and pick up on any remaining discrepancies (such as a timeline issue or if a character's hair colour changes midway through a manuscript without them having visited a salon).


This is a fairly new term where proofreading meets copyediting.

A service that encompasses a mix of both, proof-editing can be beneficial for smaller works such as blogs, articles, web copy, etc.

It's also great when time and budget may be limited.

However, I don't suggest this as a suitable option for longer works, such as a full-length manuscript, simply because a proof-editor will have more to look out for, which can result in more errors being missed.

Will I need to hire all of them?

If you're a newbie to the world of editing, you may look at the list above and be concerned about the amount of editor involvement your project may need.

However, I'm happy to say you won't need intervention from every type of editor.

What to do now

Whatever you've written, my first recommendation would always be to leave it alone for a little while. Yes, you heard. Step away from the document.

The time away from your writing will depend on what it is. For example, if you've written a blog post of, say, between 1,000 and 2,000 words, go and have a cuppa and come back with fresh eyes and a clear head.

However, if you've spent months or years crafting a fantasy novel, no matter how good that cuppa is, it's just not going to cut it. You may need to leave it a good few weeks before you return to assess it.

Self-editing is a big part of the editing process but should not be relied upon as the only form.

As a writer, you form a very close relationship with your writing. You've nurtured the idea and created worlds and words that have engrained themselves deep within your mind. Even when you turn your computer off at the end of the day, it's still niggling, growing and forming.

Therefore, when you look at your writing, you see what you expect it to say and miss the errors that exist within.

Decisions, decisions

Once you've assessed your document, it's time to decide what help you need.

If you're a business that has just launched a new range of candles, you may focus on a lot of promotional activity. This may mean lots of new social media posts, web copy and small advertisements.

In this instance, either a copyeditor or proofreader may be all you need, i.e. someone to make sure it's free of errors and possibly improve some word choices that may help attract more customers.

On the other hand, if you've written a fantasy novel with complex lands and characters, you may need help developing them with a quality that will keep readers engaged.

In this case, hiring a developmental editor may be crucial in your story becoming a hit rather than a flop. Your manuscript will likely then need to go through some form of line or copyedit before finally hiring a proofreader to catch any remaining pesky errors.

So now you know

Proofreading and editing are NOT the same thing, but combined, they can help elevate your writing to a whole new level.

Want to see how working together can boost your writing?


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